Tue | Jun 2, 2020

El Cervantino – convergence of global creativity

Published:Sunday | October 13, 2019 | 12:00 AMAmitabh Sharma - Arts and Education Coordinator

“The saying goes,” said Manuel López, second secretary at the Embassy of Mexico to Jamaica “if a bridge was built by the silver that has been mined in Guanajuato, it will stretch till Spain.”

This is a saying. Whether such a feat could be accomplished may always be debatable, but the underlying message here is that Guanajuato’s grandiose achievements stretched far and wide.

“Guanajuato was a mining town,” López said. “Its majestic architecture was made possible by the silver and gold they extracted during the colonial era. During this period, Guanajuato was the economic centre and symbol of empire power.

“For this reason,” he added, “during the Revolution of Independence, it was the first great battle won by the insurgent army.”

The glory days of mining and the colonial era finds a place somewhere in the history books, but Guanajuato has transitioned to a vibrant centre for the arts and culture and in October, it transforms into an art and culture showcase.

From October 9 – 27, the International Cervantino Festival (El Cervantino) takes centre stage. A premier arts and cultural festivals in Mexico and Latin America, El Cervantino features performing arts from around the world with a special emphasis on artistic creations in the Spanish language.

Cultural buffet

“It is a cultural buffet of music, theatre, art, folklore, and more ...,” according to the festival communiqué.

A heady mix of liberal servings of creativity in its many manifestations, in the early days, Guanajuato’s festival was a homage to the Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes. It has now evolved into a grand celebration of artistic expressions – from dance, music, film, theatre, to the visual arts. The annual festival is home to over 2,400 artists and performers from nearly 30 countries.

In recent years, El Cervantino has welcomed from Chinese modern dance troupes to puppet theatre, local jazz groups, and, of course – in the name of tradition – Cervantes’ entremeses.

The festival also highlights cultural offerings from around the world, with one country taking centre stage every year. In 2017, India was the specially invited country, and this year, Canada will take the international centre stage.

The 2019 Festival Internacional Cervantino (FIC2019) will feature 17 inspiring music, dance, and theatre shows by a diversity of artists from across Canada. In collaboration with Telefilm Canada, FIC2019 will feature nine films exploring indigenous and youth themes.

To host an event of this scale, the city of Guanajuato transforms itself into one giant stage. Squares, theatres, parks, churches and other spaces throughout the city are made into makeshift stages to showcase the wide range of events.

The origins of the Cervantino Festival date back to 1953 when Mexican theatre director Enrique Ruelas organised performances of short plays by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, author of Don Quijote, in the city’s squares.

The festival was named in honour of Cervantes and was officially founded in 1972. In the same year, the original cultural programme was expanded to include more international acts.

This year will be the 47th staging of the event. It is estimated that the festival attracts over 450,000 visitors every year, with more than 150,000 people following it on their social media pages.

Enriching experience

Festival Cervantino, according to López, reaffirms the historical richness of Guanajuato, and for him, as a cultural ambassador and music exponent, a visit to the festival is an enriching experience.

“My most memorable moments have been at the steps of the main building of the University of Guanajuato because it is a meeting point for youth,” he said. “There is a meeting point for musical groups called “tunas”. (A tuna is a group of university students in a traditional university dress who play traditional instruments and sing serenades).

In the current avatar of the festival, the Mexican Department of Tourism, the National Institute of Beaux Arts, and the Foreign Affairs Secretariat (Guanajuato State Government, 2008) was one of the key partners.

This first edition was celebrated in the Plazuela del Quijote, in Mineral de Cata, one of the mines that gave celebrity to Guanajuato thanks to the extraction of silver.

“Guanajuato is the cradle of Independence,” López said. The city has old mines and the museum has mummies, which, due to the soil compounds, were naturally preserved.

In 2005, Guanajuato was declared America’s Cervantes City for its contribution to the knowledge and dissemination of Cervantes works.

“Guanajuato is a place of miscegenation par excellence,” López said. “Since it was the seat of Spaniards and Africans who worked in the mines, they all mixed with the local Indians, thus achieving the birth of Mexican culture.”

The silver mines may have gone, but Guanajuato is building bridges – of art, culture and honouring all forms of creativity – if, hypothetically, a silver bridge was indeed constructed, which one might fathom as an absurd proposition but in the words of Miguel de Cervantes – “In order to attain the impossible, one must attempt the absurd.”